Day After F1 at Suzuka 2024

This post comes after the fourth Formula One race, held at Suzuka, Japan. As always, the paddock is buzzing with rumours, jabs and relentless pursuit of excellence. Red Bull is leading the pack, but not by as much as was feared (or hoped depending on your view). Ferrari is putting up a fight and have managed to cling to each point possible so far in the season. This means that the Italians are trailing behind by “only” 21 points. Suzuka suited the incumbent constructor champions, and no one was able to match their pace, but Ferrari came in a strong second with a 3 and 4 finish. Mercedes is on an opposing trend, lacking in both quali and race pace, as well as any confidence in a quick turnaround. Themselves admitting they have a long way to go, they not only seem to have problems hanging on to other drivers on the track, their slump and mistaken car development choices is looking to cause an exodus of talent. The highly ranked Loic Serra will leave for Ferrari 2025, and joining him and Hamilton might be a few more critical Mercedes people, such as Riccardo Musconi (leading on-track activities) Peter Bonnington (senior Race Engineer) and Andrew Shovlin (trackside engineering director). I think we need to wait for the new 2026 regulation before Mercedes will have a chance of winning races again - with the big if being Toto’s ability to both retain or create a team of top expertise full with confidence in both the car development and himself as the right person for the phase of Mercedes being the underdog needing to improve faster than the competition can. Critics argue that Toto Wolff came in as Team Principal at almost a set table, and is yet to prove himself now that others have taken big bites of their goodies.

Feature Analysis

Surprisingly Pirelli played a key role at Suzuka. Unlike the infamous 2020 race at Silverstone where the tyres didn’t hold and deflated, this time it was something positive. The talk before the race was of the difficulty of overtaking. Aston Martin directors talked about the need to have a huge 1.1 second advantage in speed over the car in front to be able to overtake, which sounded unlikely. Luckily for us, Pirelli and the warm weather came to the rescue. Being on fresh tyres gave such a distinct advantage that it lead to a two stop strategy from everyone (discounting the red flag), with one notable exception (more on that below) and a lot of takeovers as a result. The tyres shouldn’t play a deciding negative indivudual factor like in the beforementioned Silverstone case, which saw Sainz out and Hamilton finishing on the rim of one wheel, but when they push for additional pit stops and enable drivers to gamble on extending it can clearly lead to great racing. I don’t expect similar tyre impact in every race, but it’s definitely food for thought at the Pirelli and F1 management in how to approach tyre choice in the future.

Driver Spotlight

Tsunoda. Driving for renewed contract at RB Racing, showing he is the #1 man at the team as Ricciardo is yet to show either quali and race pace. I pitted him as a question mark for 2025, but he seems to have turned a corner and improved his consistency throughout the weekend. Stroll fumbling the ball yet again, meant that the final point was up for grabs for the lower half of teams. Putting together both a solid qualifying and race, Tsunoda came out on top, to the great pleasure of his home crowd at Suzuka. Well done.

Non-Driver Spotlight

Today we look at Loic Serra. He is currently serving as the Performance Director at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, but is set to join Ferrari in 2025. His role at Mercedes has been pivotal, overseeing the team's strategy and performance enhancements that have significantly contributed to their recent successes in the Formula One World Championships. Serra's analytical approach to performance optimization and his capacity for integrating advanced data analysis into actionable race strategies have been key factors in Mercedes' competitive edge. Transitioning to Ferrari, Serra brings with him a wealth of experience and a proven track record of success. His expertise in strategy development and performance management will be invaluable to Ferrari, a team with a rich history in Formula One and a relentless pursuit of championship glory. With Vasseur, Ferrari's gotten a refreshed ambition to return to the top spot of F1 racing, Serra's arrival is anticipated to highly bolster their technical and strategic capabilities. Serra’s impact at Mercedes has been significant, and his upcoming tenure at Ferrari is expected to further enhance their competitive potential in the championship races ahead. Rumours has it that Serra was one factor behind Hamilton’s move to Ferrari, where they will join forces starting next season.

Race Recap & Preview

Arigatō Suzuka! Great racing, great weather (some may argue unfortunately), and fun loving fans. We were offered something much different than predicted. Concerns before the race that Suzuka being almost as difficult as Monaco for overtaking turned out to be completely misplaced. After an eventful first lap, drivers settled in but we soon started seeing a lot of close racing and overtaking thanks to the advantage fresh tyres had. The hugh benefit of undercutting meant that teams opted for two pit stops, and saw drivers charge ahead after each. The performance order of the teams continue, with Red Bull way ahead, Ferrari second, McLaren third and Mercedes fourth. Another disappointing weekend for Williams, with Albon crashing out and Sergeant showing a some glimpse of promise for the first half of the race, but ended up struggling in the second, falling further and further behind. A great home race by Tsunoda means that RB Racing takes home the last and final point. Red Bull proved too strong and whisked by every other car. Taking the 1 and 2 spot, they followed the finish of the majority of Suzuka races, where 31 out of 34 races now have seen a car from the front row winning.

We're now entering a breathing space as we wait for the next round with the Chinese Grand Prix 2024 coming up in two weeks.

The Pit Wall - News Roundup

- Fred Vasseur is happy with Suzuka, but finds Saturday lacking. Read at gpblog

- Troubles abound at Mercedes. No quick fix admits the team. Read at ESPNF1

- Are the rumours of Verstappen leaving Red Bull because of Christian Horner’s private shenanigans worth their salt? Read at The Guardian

- Is Sebastian Vettel eyeing a comeback? Read at BBC F1

Upvote: Suzuka and Ferrari

Another great race (if you discount Verstappen and Perez) at Suzuka. Brave and well executed overtakes from Sainz (twice), Perez and Tsunoda in the fast corners showcased their expertise and why F1 is the pinnacle of motorsports for drivers. The positive, friendly and super dedicated Japanese fans are a show of their own, and they didn’t disappoint this year either.

Essere. Vamos. Ferrari. Executing strategy to perfection. Such hyperboles haven’t been said about Ferrari in a long time, who’s rather been at the mocking end of adjectives. However, this time they nailed it. Adjusting strategy after Ricciardo and Albon’s lap 1 crash, Charles LecLerc squeezed every ounce out of the tyres on a first long stint and pitted just in the right moment before otherwise being overtaken by Norris on lap 27. Post-race simulation of a two stop strategy for LecLerc pitted him falling down three spots to P7, finishing behind Russell. Now he went from 8th to 4th place. Are we seeing the fruits of improvements from Vasseur joing the team? Time will tell, but having Ferrari executing whole race weekends is such a positive manner is great for F1 fans, and they remain the main contender to beat Red Bull. At the same time, Sainz keeps on building on his resume with yet another podium. As Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said “There is a very fast unemployed driver” in Sainz.


Mercedes. Had some pace in the practice but struggled heavily in the race. Russell and Hamilton barely made an effort to hold other cars behind. Mercedes is struggling to figure out how to improve and Mercedes' trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin told Sky Sports that on a single lap, Mercedes were as fast as competition - when they used one step softer tyre than the others. Hamilton admitted that “Everything we do to try and kind of fix it doesn't really change that. It appears that it is probably going to be a more longer term fix, so nothing in the short term."

The Battle

Sainz and LecLerc. The one leaving is outperforming the one staying. Arguably also the one replacing. Dropping Sainz in favor of Hamilton may come to bite Vasseur in the behind, as Sainz is proving he’s at the top of his game and improving, while Hamilton has little to show for the last races. LecLerc’s botched Saturday qualifying meant he didn’t really race Sainz on Sunday but despite doing a great race, the truth is, Sainz looks the stronger in 2024 so far. The fight between Sainz’ heart vs LeClerc’s talent can become a real popcorn friendly frenzy, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Closing Thoughts

With Red Bull not leading by that much, driver battles galore in RB Racing, Ferrari, McLaren, Alpine, as well as a scurry to catch up to the Red Bull car by Adrian Newey and driving by Max Verstappen, we’re in for a much more promising season than the last. Let’s hope the teams can pull it off and make it interesting.